Size matters. How to choose the right size surf board

Do you feel like the surf board (most likely a chunky mini-mal or foamy) you’re riding is holding you back? That if only you could get to spend some time on a smaller board and decent waves that you’d really make the progress you’ve been dreaming about? Well this post is one for you. Find out how the board you ride can affect how well you surf. But be warned it might not be what you want to hear!

I once went on a week’s surf camp in Fuerteventura with the explicit goal of learning to ride a short board. I even contacted them before I went to say that was what I wanted to do and would they have the right board etc. I had decided that I’d had enough of riding a minimal. That was the reason I couldn’t get out back. That was the reason I wasn’t progressing.

What I clearly needed was an entire week riding a 6’6 on perfect waves. Then I could buy a short board, learn to duck dive and generally be awesome at surfing.

So when I arrived and the only boards they had were 7’6 NSPs you can imagine my disappointment.

I’m a embarrassed to say, I had a full on strop at the instructors, one of whom eventually agreed that if I rode that board for the day, he’d see how I got on and if I was indeed surfing the wrong board he would find me a 6’6.

Of course I hadn’t surfed all winter because I was living in London, so I was unfit and out of practice – I struggled to catch anything at all. Even the white water.

After another full on strop on the beach (it wasn’t a good day) Jed, the instructor came over to me and said…

“You have to catch thousands of waves to perfect your pop up – don’t try to run before you can walk. A bigger board will be way more fun for you.

Surely the purpose of surfing is to ride as many waves as you can. At your stage, the bigger your board, the more you’ll catch. By all means take out a shortboard but I bet you won’t have as much fun!”

Of course I didn’t did I. Tail well and truly between my legs I had to admit I’d been wrong. In fact the best day I had that week by far was on an 8 foot foamy. Yes you heard me – it was super fun, I caught loads of waves, killed it (well in my head I thought I had) and went to bed that night absolutely grinning.

Loving the big fat foamy

Loving the big fat foamy

What I learnt is that smaller isn’t necessarily better. Actually I couldn’t get out back because I wasn’t a good enough surfer. Even if I had managed to get out back, I probably wouldn’t have caught anything anyway.

When I lived in Nicaragua I was surfing nearly every day and super fit. I quickly outgrew my mini-mal. I found a bigger board was more of a hindrance because once the waves got over head high I struggled to control it. I dropped down to a 6’6 fish and was having a ball. It was lighter and thinner but still had good width so was more floaty than the usual thruster. Even on friend’s 6’2 thrusters I was still catching waves

Back to the UK, I bought a 6’2 egg and proceeded to have a great summer. I tried thinner boards but the waves weren’t as strong as Nicaragua so I went for something with a bit more volume. I carried on surfing a lot, and when I couldn’t surf, I at least went out to paddle around to keep my fitness up. Small board = no problem.

But after a winter of not much surfing and a lot of time in the pub, I started to struggle. In Morocco the following March I had a terrible time. Yet the moment I borrowed my friend’s 7’0 I was having a ball again, people I didn’t even know were yelling “great wave” at me. I felt like I’d found my mojo again.

Now I’m fortunae enough to have a few boards I can surf depending on the time of year (and consequently my fitness) and the waves that day.

What’s the lesson from all of this?

Surf a board that suits the waves, your ability and your fitness.

I know that if I spend 3-4 weeks regularly surfing I’ll be back happily surfing my 6’6 Webber Afterburner, but anything less than 3 surfs a week and my fitness drops, I can’t catch enough waves and I get frustrated.

If I haven’t been in for a while or the waves are a small, I’ll borrow my friend’s minimal. If they’re tiny, I might even rent a foamie or borrow a longboard.

It took me a long time to realise that I enjoyed surfing much more when I was catching more waves, and that generally happened as long as I was riding a board that suited the waves and my fitness at the time.

It seems pretty obvious in the cold light of day doesn’t it, but you’d be surprised how many people I’ve had this conversation with and it’s like a lightbulb going off.

Not that I want to labour the point, but going back to what Jed said on Cotillo in Fuerteventura, the whole point of surfing is to catch as many waves as you can. What’s the point if you’re not having fun?

Mellow Waves Tips to remember when choosing a board

  • Choose the right board for the waves you will surf most. If you’re in the UK surfing mushy summer waves, you’ll need something with a bit more volume.
  • Thick, fish shaped boards are brilliant for weaker waves and to give you a bit more volume
  • A gun won’t help you if you’re learning, they’re too skinny – you need something with more volume
  • You’ll look less cool struggling to catch anything at all on a thruster than you will cathcing everything that comes through on a mini-mal
  • If you’re determined to surf a smaller board (or can’t afford/justify getting a different one), keep up your fitness as much as you can by paddling around even if there are no waves, and working on your arm and shoulder strength out of the water.


Author: Amy Lambert

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1 Comment

  1. I learnt how to surf on a 6″ and I have a 5’8″ Rodney dahlberg and I’m 170, cm

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